President Obama highlighted an important problem in announcing the “Brother’s Keeper” initiative. As he correctly noted, young men of color in this country are undergoing a crisis.
Among black Americans, the unmarried birth rate now stands at about 73 percent. Unemployment among black men over 20 stands at about 12 percent nationally. The Census Bureau reports that 27.2 percent of black households and 25.6 percent of Hispanic households live below the poverty level. Poverty severely reduces opportunities for education and gainful employment, which means young men in these situations face enormous obstacles against establishing their own stable families and fulfilling their own potentials.
One important tool for beginning to tackle some of these problems is something many of the cultural elite would prefer either to ignore or marginalize. The Boy Scouts of America has, for the past century, provided exactly the type of leadership the nation’s young men need.
Yet Scouting itself is under attack, from both the right and the left, at a time when boys of all races are failing in educational attainment as well as maturing into the responsibilities of becoming husbands and fathers.
It is doubly sad that these attacks center on the issue of gay Scouts and leaders — given that Scouting itself has nothing to do with issues of sexual orientation.
On one side, groups are refusing to help the Scouts because the organization will not admit openly gay Scout leaders. The Walt Disney Co. recently decided to cut funding to the organization, beginning in 2015.
On the other side, a new Christian-based Scouting alternative, Trail Life USA, has formed and advertises itself as providing a Scouting-like experience, yet one that excludes openly gay boys.
Those who shun the Boy Scouts of America will have to turn to expensive and generally ineffective government programs to fill the leadership vacuum. Those who try to replicate it with exclusionary policies will be drawing attention to something that has nothing to do with Scouting’s core mission.
Rather, governments and private institutions ought to embrace the Boy Scout movement. The Boston Globe recently published a feature on the surge of inner-city Scouting in some of Massachusetts’ most troubled urban areas. It said more than 700 boys were now enrolled in 25 Cub Scout packs in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury, and that “boys are flocking to it.”
The Globe said, “The urban retention rate is 60 percent, just 10 points less than in the suburbs, which means city boys are beginning to make their ascent from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout, the highest rank.”
That is a journey that not only will teach those boys important skills, it will require them to perform service, including an Eagle project to improve their communities and teach them the satisfaction that comes with making a positive impact on the world around them.
In 2012, Boy Scouts of America reported 13,449,017 service hours performed by roughly 2.7 million Scouts, providing nearly $300 million in benefits to their communities. Much of this had to do with picking up litter or otherwise beautifying communities. Much of it also had to do with collecting and distributing food to the poor and homeless.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming good in the Scouting program is being drowned out by narrow political agendas. That is a shame, because no other program or organization has matched the record of the Boy Scouts in helping boys grow to become responsible men and fathers.
This article was printed as an editorial in the Deseret News March 7, 2014.
See “In our opinion: Boy Scouts of America and building responsible men,” (March 7, 2014) Deseret News.